Thursday, February 10, 2011

The Philippines Blunder over Taiwan

FROM the beginning, the Aquino government has shown an ineptitude at diplomacy despite retaining the services of a Foreign Affairs secretary with more than six years of experience. People may have forgotten, for example, about the embarrassment over the President’s premature plan to visit Indonesia in September, or perhaps even the poor etiquette of a member of the President’s party who griped about the wine and men in Vietnam on Twitter while attending Asean functions. Many more likely remember the hostage-taking fiasco that strained Philippine relations with Hong Kong and China that still influences the behavior of Filipino officials today.

The latest blunder has Taiwan seething. The Immigration bureau deported 14 Taiwan Chinese nationals to the People’s Republic of China. Reacting to the deportation, the government in Taipei issued a formal protest, recalled its representative in Manila, and revoked the visa-free entry privilege to Taiwan for Filipinos.

It gets worse. An official of the Manila Economic and Cultural Office (MECO) confirmed during a radio interview on Thursday that the Taiwanese government would retaliate against Filipino workers. Documents of Filipinos that normally took Taiwan about two weeks to process may now take up to four months, he told Joe Taruc on dzRH. The Philippine economy is kept afloat by remittances from overseas Filipino workers, or OFWs, who are predicted to send home some $20 billion to their families in the Philippines this year. About 90,000 Filipinos work in Taiwan, including the undocumented OFWs, according to the MECO official.

Besides hosting Filipino workers, Taiwan is also a major source of foreign investments in the Philippines. And Taiwan conducts humanitarian and civic missions here, as well as scholarship grants to Filipinos to study there. It’s unclear whether these programs, too, will be affected by the deportation of the Taiwanese, although prudence demands consideration of all possibilities no matter how remote.

The Palace should not underestimate the gravity of the situation. In the eyes of Taiwan, the Philippines has unwittingly intervened in the sensitive cross-straits affairs by deporting the Taiwanese to archrival China. To date, it still considers Taiwan a renegade province. But it doesn’t serve Philippine interests to take sides.

Very significant is that the deportation may have repercussions on Taiwan’s domestic politics, because the issue is reportedly being used by the Taiwanese opposition to attack the ability of President Ma Ying-jeou’s government to protect its citizens. President Ma is up for reelection next year.

Options for the President

Taiwan’s representative in Manila, Donald Lee, demanded that the Philippines apologize to Taiwan. The Palace should weigh that heavily, hopefully with advice from experts at the Department of Foreign Affairs.

More importantly, we urge the President to look into the deportation case, and declare that he will not tolerate shenanigans at the Bureau of Immigration or elsewhere in government against foreigners, whether they are from Taiwan or someplace else. Looking into Mr. Lee’s allegations that Philippine laws and human rights were violated has nothing to do with the One China Policy.

The authorities should investigate why the Taiwanese were allegedly detained illegally. They, along with 10 Chinese from the mainland, were arrested by officers of the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) on December 27, 2010, but the cases against them were not filed until January 4 and 5, 2011—after the Taiwan Economic and Cultural Office (TECO) wrote to complain about the detention.

Also, there ought to be a probe into the undue haste by the Immigration bureau and the lack of due process. According to TECO, the Taiwanese and Chinese were flown to China on February 2, 2011, in spite of a writ of habeas corpus issued by the Court of Appeals on January 31, 2011 that orders the NBI, the Immigration bureau and the Department of Justice to bring the detainees to a hearing on February 2nd. And the prosecutors had even scheduled a hearing on February 8 and 10, 2011.

The Immigration bureau instead held a hearing on February 1, 2011, but TECO claimed it was not informed. And when the 14 Taiwanese were about to be flown out, Mr. Lee said that he rushed to the airport with a copy of writ of habeas corpus to halt the deportation, but he was stopped by the authorities there.

Finally, the Palace should look into why the Taiwanese were classified as undocumented aliens. TECO alleges that their passports were confiscated by the NBI.

Plus, TECO had contacted them several times about the 14 Taiwanese. If there was still doubt about nationality, the authorities could have asked MECO if it issued visas to the 14 detained. In sending the Taiwanese to China, Mr. Lee points out correctly that the Philippines violated its own immigration laws.

One China Policy

On a related matter, we urge Foreign Affairs Sec. Alberto Romulo to send someone to explain the One China Policy to the President and his spokesmen. They appear ignorant in invoking that policy with regard to this deportation scandal.

Officially, we have no diplomatic ties with Taiwan. But economic and geopolitical concerns make it essential for us to have strong “economic and cultural relations” with the government of that friend and neighbor. In a polite rebuke, Mr. Lee pointed out some truths. When Filipinos apply for a visa to work in Taiwan, they do so at TECO, not at the Chinese embassy in Manila. And when the Filipinos workers are paid for their labor, they receive Taiwanese dollars, not renminbi, the currency of the mainland.

Taiwan has a point that at issue here is not the One China Policy. The issue is whether Philippine laws and procedures were broken by Filipino authorities. And a related issue is the authority of a writ of habeas corpus issued by Court of Appeals, as well as the authority of prosecutors who have yet to complete their procedures in this case. It is unfortunate that because foreigners were involved, the Filipino people, particularly the innocent and hardworking OFWs in Taiwan, are the ones that end up suffering the consequences. Manila Times

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